Testing Scott Adams' Systems-vs-Goals Rule

Testing Scott Adams’ Systems-vs-Goals Rule

By Anthony Ponce
In a number of recent interviews, I have been asked what made me decide to leave the
stability and visibility of NBC to become an independent podcaster. There were many factors, but the one that clinched it was an interview I heard on The Tim Ferriss Show with Scott Adams, author and creator of the comic strip, Dilbert.  Adams talked about a “systems vs. goals” approach to career decisions. While goal-setting can be a valuable tool, Adams cautions against setting goals which–if unachieved–leave you with little or nothing to show for it.  Instead, Adams believes in setting concurrent “systems” in place which are guaranteed to enrich you with new skills, experiences, and/or connections–all transferable to future endeavors.
Goals are hit-or-miss; systems–if designed correctly–are fail-proof.
Adams’ logic was key to my own decision.  If I quit my stable job with the GOAL of launching a successful podcast, then “achievement” of that goal would depend on the podcast becoming really popular–something I hope will happen, but which I ultimately cannot control.  But for me, the mere act of podcasting is an effective SYSTEM, because it’s requiring me to spend hundreds of hours developing the three skills that are most crucial on my career path:
1.  Writing.  Nothing motivates like a deadline. Having a podcast due every Wednesday forces me to create something unique each week out of thin air.  If I continue churning out 5000 words per week 52 times (the minimum length of my contract with PodcastOne), I expect the quality of my writing/writing process to spike dramatically.
2.  Interviewing. My podcast, Backseat Rider, depends on making meaningful connections with my Lyft passengers–complete strangers.  This involves intense listening, which is the key to good interviews.  In my prior job as a TV anchor/reporter, this was easy to practice, but difficult to master.  The frequency of the deadlines (2-3 stories per daywas not always conducive to deep listening or long interviews.  In my current role, interviews can last more than an hour.  Just three months into Backseat Rider, and I already feel 2x more confident in the depth of both my listening and interviewing abilities.
3.  Finding my voice.  My podcast requires long-form narration:  normally at least 30 minutes’ worth per episode.  At NBC, I was writing and voicing daily stories, but they only lasted between 75 and 90 seconds.  Other days, I was reading Teleprompter copy written by other people.  With a minimum number of facts required in each short story, there wasn’t a lot of room left to experiment with a unique “voice.”  Podcasting is the opposite; there are no time constraints and I can choose whichever topics I want.  I have already heard from several listeners that there is a noticeable difference between my voice in Episode 1 versus my voice in Episode 16.
With the above items in mind, I have “insulated” what many people saw as a major risk, by setting in motion an effective system.  Developing those three skills will make me more valuable, regardless of whether the podcast is a success in the eyes of the outside world.
If you’re considering a career change, I’d encourage you to consider Adams’ advice:  set your goals aside for a moment and ask yourself, “is this move an effective system?  Will it give me skills, experience, or personal connections that will prove valuable in the future?”  If the answer is yes, then suddenly what looks like a risk to others becomes fail-proof to you.
Anthony Ponce is the creator and host of Backseat Rider on PodcastOne.